Giving Thought: Connecting community to creativity in the midvalley

Allison Alexander
Giving Thought
Allison Alexander
Courtesy photo

Natural beauty surrounds our region and is unparalleled in many respects. The striking natural landscapes are further complemented by a diverse, vibrant art scene and community matched by no other place on Earth.

Many are familiar with the Aspen and Snowmass art scene, which draws international artists for exhibitions at Aspen Art Museum and workshops at Anderson Ranch. Yet the arts also have a strong presence downvalley. Carbondale received its designation as a creative district from Colorado Creative Industries in 2016 and is home to upward of 200 creative organizations, artists and artisans. Meanwhile midvalley, Basalt has its own unique place in our arts ecosystem.

The Art Base, a Basalt-based arts non-profit, fosters creative expression in the visual arts for all ages and abilities through education, exhibitions and providing opportunities to artists and artisans. Founded in 1996 to become a treasured community space for arts and gathering, it continues to hold this vision while also evolving with needs and interests.

“We stay community focused,” said Lisa DeLosso, executive director of the Art Base. “We offer workshops for hobbyists to learn new skills and explore techniques as well as gallery space and intensive workshop opportunities for practicing artists.”

Staying true to its mission, the Art Base offered over $100,000 of free educational programming to community members last year.

“Our educational offerings are provided in a way that is welcoming and creates space to tinker and play as well as learn how to work with different materials. Materials can be very expensive, so offering them in this way gives more access and opportunity to our community members,” she said.

Demonstrating its ability to meet changing community needs while providing opportunities for creativity, since March 2020, the Art Base has provided over 8,000 free Art Kits To-Go, the brainchild of Dana Higbie, studio manager at the Art Base who has been with the organization for more than 15 years.

During summer months, the Art Base offers free family Crafternoons from 10-2 during the Basalt Sunday Market in downtown Basalt. This program shifts to a monthly offering after the market ends each summer but is another way for community members to engage with creativity without a barrier for entry and to “play without pressure.”

On Aug. 1, registration opens for their free after-school programming, After School Art, which serves as a safe, enriching space for youth with working parents in the area. This offering creates space for fun, nurturing creativity as well as supporting the development of problem-solving and critical thinking skills.

Perhaps the Art Base’s most popular offering for adults is its partnership with HeadQuarters (formerly Aspen Strong), Art, Healing and Hope. These free, virtual, in-person workshops create space for both creativity and healing in community while focusing on the process, not the product of art.

While educational programming is a large part of the Art Base’s offerings, the gallery spaces are also a critical component of the community space.

“Viewing art is just as important as making it,” DeLosso said.

The gallery space at the Art Base features emerging and established regional and local artists, creating opportunities for community members to see artists’ works they might not otherwise. Works from Hannah Stoll are currently on exhibition and feature her work as a self-taught oil painter from Carbondale. Next month, works from Leah Aegerter will offer visitors a chance to view works inspired by natural landscapes and rocks exploring how nature tells stories.

On August 19, the Art Base will host its pARTy to support its mission and its annual presentation of the Melva Bucksbaum Dedication to the Arts award to longtime local David Floria.

“David is a blind artist who has given countless opportunities to other artists in our region as both a gallerist and curator and has also done a tremendous amount of volunteer work with the Aspen Chapel Gallery and English in Action. This is an opportunity to come together and celebrate his incredible contributions to our community,” said DeLosso.

She emphasized: “Basalt is coming into its own. While it does act as a bridge in our region between Aspen and our downvalley towns, it is not just a bedroom community. We have long-standing community members here who are really invested in our long term thriving. I am excited to see what unfolds here over the next five-10 years.”

The book-ended communities that border Basalt might offer other well-known points of interest for the arts, but the Art Base in Basalt should not be overlooked. This community gem plays a critical role in our regional arts ecosystem connecting community to creativity through exhibitions and expansive educational opportunities.

Allison Alexander is the director of strategic partnerships and communicationsfor the Aspen Community Foundation, which with the support of its donors, works with non-profits in the Roaring Fork and Colorado River valleys.